What Is A Therapist?

Medically reviewed by Kimberly L Brownridge , LPC, NCC, BCPC
Updated April 16, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Many find that it’s becoming more socially acceptable to attend therapy. 


Simply put, most people might experience mental health concerns at some point in their lives—possibly prompting them to explore the possibility of therapy for support.  

Working with a counselor can help people experiencing eating disorders, substance use disorder, anger concerns, relationship frustrations and much more. Read on to learn more about what a therapist is, and how they can help across contexts of new and old mental health concerns.

If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources. Support is available 24/7.

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Wondering how a therapist can help you?
According to the Collins English Dictionary, the word “therapist” can be defined as "a person who is skilled in a particular type of therapy." Therapists can work across many different kinds of therapy, ranging from massage therapy to help people relax, to physical and psychological therapy. Even within the field of mental health counseling, there can be different types of therapists that specialize in different areas of mental wellness.

Therapy for mental health concerns often involves therapists talking to a patient to find out what is going on in their lives. Patients can then open up about what is bothering them, and the therapist will listen while offering suggestions for how they can make certain changes. For example, if a patient is experiencing nervousness, a therapist may offer helpful coping strategies for reducing stress, such as journaling or meditation.

Some therapists practice cognitive behavioral therapy, Irvin Yalom group therapy or psychoanalytical therapy. Therapists can treat patients using these different kinds of therapy to help them resolve problems in their lives.

Wondering how to become a therapist? 

If you are interested in becoming a counselor, whether that be a speech therapist, psychotherapist, or someone who practices other therapies, you will usually need to earn a degree prior to beginning your licensing process. Most therapists earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Some therapists might also earn bachelor’s degrees in related fields and then move into working as a therapist afterward.

Many jobs for therapists also require a master’s degree. After earning the proper degree, a therapist will need to become licensed to practice therapy—much like other health professionals would need to for their line of work. 

A prospective counselor generally needs to complete two years of supervised clinical experience before being eligible to take the therapy license exam. There are state licensure exams and professional exams to consider for this role and many others; including for social workers, marriage and family therapists and other jobs within the health care industry. We do want to note: Requirements for therapist licensure may depend on your location.

While many may choose to explore therapy, they usually find that it can take a lot of work to become a counselor or to pursue their own practice. Therapy of all types (including marriage and family therapy) isn’t generally an easy career to embark upon, but it can be very satisfying for those who have a passion for helping people.

What it takes to be a therapist

Being a counselor is generally about helping others. (For example: Family therapists help members of the family unit). The role of counselor can be a challenging career, and you will be trying to help people during their lowest moments in life. It can be a mentally exhausting job, but it can also be very satisfying.

Being a successful counselor takes qualities such as patience and compassion. The ability to empathize with your patients is key, but you also need to be able to look at situations objectively so that you can help people to address their concerns. Part of this process includes evaluating the “warning signs” for conditions or expeirences people may be having that can affect their quality of life, regardless if they are aware of them or not.


Therapist mindset & means

A therapist’s goal is generally to help the patient overcome the concerns that they are facing. To accomplish this task, many may have to do their best to guide the patient, using talk therapy and other therapeutic methods. It is also imperative that therapists maintain an open mind and avoid casting judgment on patients prematurely, as this can compromise the quality of care given. 

If you choose to be a therapist, you may have to help address difficult topics. Even when conversations are uncomfortable, it can be important to maintain an air of neutral curiosity to facilitate continuous progress. Helping people reach their mental health goals can take significant time and effort, but it can be one of the most rewarding career paths to embark on. 

How to find a therapist

If you are interested in becoming a therapist, you may want to speak to someone who is already practicing therapy. It can also be helpful to search for and speak to a counselor to better understand your own mental health before attempting to help other people with theirs.

It can be important to take your time to look into your options if you’re wanting to pursue a career in therapy. To do this, you’ll generally want to make sure a prospective counselor is operating a successful practice and that they have experience with providing the type of therapy that you need. There are many types of therapy, so you will want to be specific about the particular type of therapy you're looking for when searching for a therapist.

Using online resources to their full potential is going to make finding a good counselor a lot simpler. You can look at counselor reviews and make your own decision about whether or not a particular counselor is going to be a good fit for you. You can also learn more about the type of therapy you hope to receive.

We do want to note: You may feel like you want to start therapy right away, but it is beneficial to look into what is available before moving forward. Sometimes you will even find that traditional therapy options might not be very practical for your situation. In this case, you may want to consider the many benefits of online therapy.

Wondering how a therapist can help you?

Online therapy

Online therapy is considered by many to be a fantastic option for anyone who is seeking therapy. You can receive therapy without even having to leave your home;  speaking to your counselor in the form of video chat, phone calls or in-app messaging.

Online therapists are scientifically suggested to be just as qualified as those who are practicing at traditional therapy offices—with many clinical sources noting that each modality of therapy offers comparable benefits when compared to the other. 

The online therapy method: When? Where? It's all up to you

Online therapy generally allows you to receive various types of therapy without having to worry about how you can fit it into your schedule. You can even schedule sessions over the weekend! An online therapy team often winds up being far more practical for busy professionals and those who have children. 

Online therapy can also be a strong option for people who want to seek out therapy in a more discreet manner. You can get the right help without having to fear that anyone is judging you, possibly making it far easier to focus on healing. 


If you are experiencing anxiety, depression or any other type of mental health condition, or if you want to learn more about the mental health counseling profession, it can be helpful to talk to a therapist. BetterHelp can connect you with an online therapist in your area of need.

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